Volunteers are the real powerhouse of a professional body like CIPR, and are fundamental to changing the perceptions of IC amongst employers, recruiters and leaders. This is why I am a CIPR volunteer helping to take IC towards a better place.
Last week I was elected as Vice Chair for CIPR Inside, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations sector group for people working in internal communication and employee engagement. I’ve been with the group as a volunteer committee member for nearly 4 years now, most recently as the group’s Treasurer. I’m looking forward to this fresh challenge, building on the group’s recent successes in 2020 and helping to take IC towards a better place.
People sometimes ask me why I volunteer for CIPR, and give up so much of my ‘spare’ time and knowledge for free. I suppose my reasons for being involved with the group have changed over the years. Originally it was for quite selfish reasons.
When I joined the CIPR Inside committee in early 2016, I was just on the cusp of leaving a string of communication roles in central government. After 30 years as a Civil Servant, and over 10 of those years in communication roles, I’d decided that I needed to see what else there was to do in the world of communication and PR beyond the walls and safety of the big government departments I’d been working in. I was curious to see if I could hack it as a communicator in contexts and sectors I’d never experienced. I was also extremely nervous about being out there, on my own.
One of the great things about working in government communications is that you are automatically a member of the Government Communication Service (GCS) and a big network of other public sector communicators. GCS is like a professional body, and the support, training and tools I had access to as a member were second to none. I still use some of the excellent GCS methodologies I learned as government communicator, today.
Leaving the Civil Service meant leaving GCS, and I knew that if I was to remain relevant and current as a professional communicator, I needed to extend my network and find other ways to engage in continuous professional development. At that point I’d been a member of CIPR for quite a few years but my membership had always been secondary to GCS. It seemed like the obvious choice to try and get more involved in CIPR to build my network and stay relevant, so I signed up as a CIPR Inside volunteer.
My reasons for being a CIPR volunteer are now are quite different. If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you’ll know that my main soapbox is professionalism in internal communication. There aren’t currently enough internal communicators getting qualified, doing meaningful continuous professional development or learning from other internal communicators. This is a drag on us collectively making progress towards being regarded as the strategic management function we need to become if we are ever to be taken seriously as a true business enabler. As a veteran internal communicator, I feel that am now responsible for trying to help make this paradigm shift happen, and this is the reason I am still with CIPR Inside four years later.
It’s also the reason that I conceptualised The IC Citizen earlier this year, as the embodiment of what it means to be a good internal communicator who invests in themselves and also in other internal communicators. In an industry where sometimes the pathways to becoming better are obscure and confusing, I hope that The IC Citizen Manifesto might signpost more internal communicators towards the things they can do to improve and stay relevant in a rapidly changing world of work.
Being a committee member of CIPR Inside has also changed my view and understanding of CIPR itself, and most professional bodies generally, and encouraged me to remain as a member. Quite simply CIPR couldn’t exist or operate without volunteers like me or the hundreds of other members who freely give up their time to create resources, run events and maintain the infrastructure for the benefit of all members and the wider PR profession.
I now understand that volunteers are the real powerhouse of CIPR. Whilst the presidents and HQ team are engaging and influencing more broadly with national institutions, government and across industry, there is a limit to what they can achieve from this top down perspective. Volunteers, who are also often embedded as practitioners inside organisations or serving clients in agencies or as consultants, can make a huge difference to changing perceptions of what PR and communication is for, and how practised well it can make a huge and positive difference to organisational performance and society more broadly.
This is particularly important for the future of internal communication as a PR discipline, where there is a huge amount to do correct the misconceptions about what internal communication is really for. Practitioners themselves are best placed to educate employers, recruiters, leaders and others about the true power of internal communication, what good really looks like in terms of practice and why it should be taken seriously in all organisations and not just viewed as a nice to have. However, to be able to do this, we need to help all internal communicators understand themselves what good looks like, what standards they should be aiming for, and provide the resources for them to be able to develop and achieve that.
This is why I’ll remain as a CIPR volunteer for as long as I am able to do so. Volunteering has lots of personal development benefits in terms of exposure to things you might never otherwise experience in your day job, but for me it is mostly about trying to move the internal communication profession towards a better place.